It has been days since I have had time and wakefulness enough to record any of my doings! There is no margin for slacking on the frontier, and Bois-de-Bas is most definitely on the frontier: a beautiful place, indeed, a place of woods and grottos and small valleys and small fields carved out of the woodlands, but also a place of hard work and few comforts.
What comfort there is to be had, Marc and Elise have given me: a cot to sleep on, hot food, and the opportunity to be of use around the farm. Marc and Elise have no farmstead of their own as yet, and live with Marc's uncle, Herbert Frontenac; and so perforce, am I. Since my arrival I have been learning to feed the goats and milk the cow and other necessary chores; and I have been helping to cut down trees (so as to expand the fields) and split firewood. I think perhaps my hands will never be the same, for it is work unlike any I have ever done. I fear I learn slowly.
Onc' Herbert has a doubtful look in his eye as he watches me—a doubtful and somewhat amused look, I think—but I hope I have given him no reason to doubt my willingness. And so, I have dropped onto my cot at the end of each day, worn, weary, and wiped out—as Jack used to say of his military service.
Today, however, is a day of rest for Bois-de-Bas, with only the most necessary of chores, and I rejoice for it means I have time this afternoon to sit and ponder a little.
The day began—after chores—with divine services in the little church, the most sturdily built structure in the village. It is framed of bronzewood timbers, and has a steeply pitched roof to shed the snow. The outside is plain, but the inside features all manner of carvings.
It was a service of the Old Religion, of course, the villagers all being Provençese in origin. I followed along as best I could, the proceedings being rather different than divine services back in Yorke—and those not well known to me at that, for my father paid as little heed to such things as he could well manage in his position. We were wealthy enough to have a private chapel and so avoid the need to be seen at public worship each week; and if the chapel remained dusted and empty for most of the year, who was there to speak of it but us?
After the service, which was quiet and simple, there being no priest resident in Bois-de-Bas, there was a meal held in common, and eaten at trestle-tables set up on the green outside the church. I gather it is the social highlight of the week, at least during the warmer months. I was introduced as "Cousin Armand" and did my best to appear not too obviously Cumbrian. Oncle Herbert knows where I am from, but sees no need to spread it too widely.
After the meal, which lasted much longer than I would have guessed, we split into two groups, of men and women, and trooped off to the hot springs! And that is an experience I shall delight in repeating. It was a continuation of the social time, of course, and opportunity for the men and women to each go off by themselves—for no one can afford special clothing for bathing, not in Bois-de-Bas! And so we sat in the hot steaming water on benches made of chêne-pierre for the purpose and talked of this and that. Oh the relaxation! I was asked a great many questions, which I endeavored to answer (or not to answer) as honestly as I could; for someday these people will know all about me, and I would not want it said that I was a liar when I first came among them.
After the springs, and (in some cases) a great deal too much of the local wine—for one large fellow named Jean-Paul nearly slipped under the water and drowned. He was rescued with a great deal of merriment and ribaldry and left on the side of the pool like a grounded snark, this being evidently a commonplace event—after the springs, I say, we got dressed and returned to our homes, warm and refreshed.
There is a floating island not far from Bois-de-Bas, some miles away to the north and not too high; it appears to be well wooded, and also watered for there is a water fall that spills in a vast cloud of mist into a lake in the valley below. One might perhaps live there well enough if one could get there. I noticed it when I first arrived, and now I cannot get sky-boats out of my mind. I have my grimoire to hand; I think I shall settle down with it and see what I have learned that might be to the purpose. There will be something; my father assured me, once I had copied his grimoire, that I had the foundations for everything I would ever practically need, given time and thought. At the very least, it shall give me something to ponder as I feed the goats in the morning.